Ulmus glabra

The elms are a very distinct genus of trees which includes a wide range of forms or varieties. Few experts agree about the correct ranking of many of these, as will be discussed later on page 97. but there is no dispute at all ovet the status and identification of the Wych elm. This is a native species found all over the British Isles, with old-established names in Gaelic - leamhan [pronounced 'leveri) and in Welsh - tlwyfan.

Characters that it shares with all the elms include rounded winter buds, set alternately along the twigs, and simple oval leaves with one very odd feature. Elm leaves are always more or less lop-sided,- the two halves may be obviously uneven, or else the base may he oblique. The leaf edges are doubly toothed, and veins are distinct. Elm flowers appear early in the spring, in late February or early March, well before the leaves. These Sowers are usually seen high in the crowns of tall trees, as purplish red tufts on bare branches. They arise in clusters, each holding several small simple blossoms. Each separate flower has five sepals, five stamens with purplish-red anthers, and a two-styled pistil. Pollination is effected by the wind, and there are no petals and no nectaries to attract insects.

After pollination the calyx and stamens fall away, and each pistil ripens a single seed, set at or near the centre of ayellowish-green papery wing. The dusters of winged seeds ripen in early May, just before, or just after, the elm has expanded its leaves. They are quite showy and are sometimes mistaken for flowers. Few seeds are fertile. The good ones germinate within a few weeks of falling, and send up two seed-leaves, followed by a pair of oppositely-set symmetrical juvenile leaves: the normal adult leaves - alternately set and lop-sided - follow.

The heartwood of all the elms is a rich warm reddish brown in colour; around it there grows a thin band of pale-yellow sapwood, surrounded in turn by rough grey bark. Elm timber has a lively


Winter twig of Wych elm. showing the stout twigs, large rounded flower buds and smaller growth buds (X J). Single growth bud (X4).

figure 110

Fruiting twig of Wych elm in May showing the large winged seed: leaf-

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figure caused by the varying sizes of the vessels or pores in each annual ring. Those pores that are formed first in spring, and so lie nearest the centre of the tree, are largest; smaller ones succeed them in an irregular, stepped, pattern. The gram of elm timber is interlocked in a remarkable way that makes it almost impossible to split It is hard, strong, yet easily worked with cutting tools, though not with splitting tools.

Large quantities are used for furniture and coffin boards, and for making strong packing cases for heavy machinery. Elm is also employed for the side planking of sheds and summerhouses, often as 'waney-edged' boards in a rustic pattern. Because it is so hard to split it is used for chair seats, since it does not break when legs and uprights are driven in; also for wheel-hubs, because it will not split when the spokes are driven home. Mallet heads are another use. In dock and harbour work large elm planks and beams are used where resistance to abrasion by shingle or by vessels, is essentiaL

Craft uses of elm wood include water pipes and water pumps, which were made of wood before metal-working was developed. When kept continually wet it does not perish, and disused pipes 200-years old, still quite sound, are often dug up in London. But it is not durable at ground level - where both air and moisture are present to encourage wood-rotting fungi, so it should never be used for fencing.

Most kinds of elm readily send up suckers, which are shoots that arise from their underground roots, and may eventually figure 110

Fruiting twig of Wych elm in May showing the large winged seed: leaf-

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Ulmus Hollandica Twig

develop into trees. But Wych elm is an exception; it will not sucker and can only be increased by seed.

The distinguishing features of the Wych elm include stout twigs, large winter buds, and a remarkably large leaf, usually 8-! 5cm long, which has markedly rough or scabrid surfaces. Wych elm bark is regularly patterned; the trunk often carries an open network of ribs and furrows. The trunk always tends to branch low down, as our photo shows, giving rise to a number of spreading ascending branches, which eventually droop at their tips to make a dome-shaped crown. The seeds are large, and are set in the centre of big wings.

Wych elm, which is also called Scots elm and Mountain elm because it is the only common kind in the north, is found growing as a wild tree in Highland glens or upland valleys. It is also planted as a park tree, particularly in Scottish cities where it thrives despite smoke, poor soil and a cool climate. Wych elms, intended partly for timber and partly for shelter and landscape effect, can be found on many private estates throughout Britain, more often in mixed woods than as pure stands. Wych elm timber is considered to be somewhat stronger and more easily worked than that of other elms: it has specialised uses in boat building and carriage building, but most of it goes for furniture. The word 'wych' originally meant 'pliant or 'supple,' but was often applied, in the past, to mean 'elm tree,' regardless of species.

Wych elm flowers are illustrated in Figure 117, seeds in Figure 110 and leaves in Figure 119,

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